Haraj (bin Gassem) The Hidden Secret of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Each day I continue to learn of new and interesting tidbits of information about Saudi Arabia and especially Riyadh, which is where I live.  The other day I was introduced to Haraj (bin Gassem) which must be a well-kept secret since it took me over two years to learn about it.


Haraj (bin Gassem) is a second hand souk east of Riyadh.  It is an exceptionally large souk and extends for blocks and blocks.  Everything at the souk is second hand but so many items will appear brand new that it is hard to believe they’ve ever been previously owned.


The souk sells items from automobile parts to carpets to household appliances and household items to toys to clothes.  Many of the stalls are inside of the huge white beudion style desert tents.  And for second hand, the individual stalls are actually well-organized.  For example in the area with hundreds of stalls selling second hand clothing, racks of clothes will be neatly organized and arranged hanging on hangers.  One rack will have trousers, another shirts, another skirts, etc.


Now here is where the secret part comes in – the prices and the quality.  I will address specifically about the clothes.  I have been told that many of the clothes were likely cast offs from members of the Royal family.  The clothes span from items for children, western dress for men such as business suits, dress shorts, casual clothes, jeans to traditional dress such as thobes, bischts, smaughs, farwas and for the women, what an incredible selection!  Here is where one will even find a large selection of wedding dresses as well as haute coutre gowns in addition to skirts, day dresses, jeans, blouses and traditional Saudi thobes for women as well.  The maximum price one would typically pay for an outfit such as a man’s western business suit or a woman’s haute coutre gown is 30 SAR (less than US$10).


I also wish to point out that in regards to clothes, we are not talking about junk or out of fashion rejects.  Many of these items are designer clothes, very well made and still in the height of fashion.


Sadly a lot of Saudis when hearing of this souk have a stigma at the mere thought of going somewhere and looking at “second hand goods.”  Well, then that is their loss and everyone elses gain!  I have no qualms going to the second hand souk where I may find an Oscar de la Rente or Chanel gown in excellent immaculate condition and IN MY SIZE for 30 SAR as compared to 7,000 SAR from an exclusive boutique.


When you go, naturally be watchful of your purse and mobile phone.  Have plenty of small notes (1, 5, 10 SAR denomination) due to the incredible prices.  A woman -could- go without wearing a head covering but it is more suitable to have something over the head at such a traditional souk.  I know of a Canadian woman who went unaccompanied and without covering her head who found herself being harrassed and groped at while walking around.  I went with another female friend and we had no problems at all and were treated with respect.


Fortunately the majority of taxi drivers know if you are in Riyadh and ask to be taken to Haraj bin Gassem.  But a word of advise, try to avoid the souk on the weekend as then it is a frenzy of expat laborers who have nowhere else to go and crowd control and smell control can be pretty intense.


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